Sounders FC pulled out the best result of their season last night when they visited the hottest team in MLS, the San Jose Earthquakes and came away with a win.
Not only did they knock the deserved leaders of the Western Conference out the cup, but they did so with a patchwork quilt of squad players, and more importantly with a backline that looked organised, competent and resolute.
Their fans should be harbouring an unadulterated glee today with nothing to sour their joy.
The headlines should be Cordell Cato becoming the youngest Sounder ever to score.
Those headlines should be of deeds performed by feet not by fists.
The headlines on MLSSoccer.com are not of Cordell Cato’s goal or Zach Scott’s captaincy holding a superb backline together better than at any time this season.
They are not even of Sigi Schmid eking the best performance out of his players while under immense pressure, and calling his tactics right.
This morning, it’s Eddie Johnson’s inability to maintain his professionalism that is the accusation and the talk around the watercooler.
Nobody who was not there can say for certain what happened. The video is grainy so we have to turn to, pardon the pun, eye witnesses.
San Jose substitute Jed Zayner was right in the middle of it, and the inferences from his explanation on the MLS article are ominous for Johnson:
“Eddie Johnson was just taunting us in front of our bench, and celebrating and saying obscenities to our fans,” said Zayner, whose right eye was noticeably more closed than his left as he spoke to reporters.
“I just walked up to him and said, ‘Eddie, you want to celebrate, go celebrate in front of your own bench.’ And he hit me in my face. That’s really it.”
If all he did was walk up to Johnson. That part is under dispute. Zayner is also alleged to have done some shoving to move Johnson away from the bench and the video is clear enough to show that to be the case.
That Johnson decided to do his celebrating in front of the Quakes bench is not under dispute though and this is disturbing because he has already been fined for his undignified behaviour after a previous Seattle win.
During the match in Chicago on April 28, Johnson made an ‘inappropriate gesture’ to Chicago Fire fans. He was fined by MLS and subsequently admitted the offence and apologised.
Having previous form for the same offence does not of course automatically equal guilt, but it does remove the ‘he’s not that sort of player’ defence. Johnson clearly is the kind of player that revels in goading defeated opponents. Doing it away from home is the kind of conduct that starts more serious disorder.
You can throw in two more pieces of evidence to his existing fine.
According to Geoff Lepper on MLS, Zayner’s right eye was noticeably more closed than his left as he spoke to reporters. Short of claiming he punched himself to frame Johnson, that is pretty damning. Again the video does not conclusively connect the two.
Then there is Portland. By some accounts of the various skirmishes that almost disgraced both clubs, if there was to have been a third red card after Lovel Palmer and Fredy Montero, Johnson was the prime candidate.
Most already expect his name to figure when the MLS Disciplinary Committee trawls through the video wreckage.
There were other flashpoints during last night’s match in San Francisco that suggest a deeper issue than one man. The sight of both assistant referees on the pitch to break up brawling for the second Sounders’ game running will not enhance the club’s reputation.
There is a downside, as the mantle of being easily provoked will be well known to future opponents. Forget that cleaning up the disciplinary aspect and asking your players to set an example is the right thing to do. It is also the beneficial thing to do for this club.
Fans do not buy season tickets expecting to turn up and see the star players, whose wages they pay, suspended. They also do not want their children to see them brawling, flouting authority and mouthing obscenities at fans.
Given the incessant hooligan narrative that the suits (and we don’t just mean Sounders executives here) fired at fans throughout 2011, it is our view that two things are called for. Some very tough action against Eddie Johnson if Zayner’s accusations are true. And perhaps an apology to fans for insinuating the hooligans were their customers rather than their employees.
MLS cannot act on last night as it was an Open Cup game. Besides they have their hands full from Sunday.
The USSF may act but receiving fine after fine does not clean up Sounders FC. That starts at home. And that starts by recognising that the widespread indiscipline displayed recently is not always someone else’s fault.
Red cards attained as a part of mistimed tackles such as Jhon Hurtado’s in Montreal are part of the game.
Using game play as a cover for an act of irresponsible aggression such as Alvaro Fernandez’s tackle against Sporting Kansas is a greyer area, but the Uruguayan can at least claim he was trying to influence the outcome of the game in his side’s favour.
Pat Ianni can justifiably claim that he was ‘standing his ground’ when he shoved away a Portland player at a set piece. Not the brightest moment perhaps for an otherwise superbly disciplined player, but it was during the game and it was an attempt to hamper the opposition’s efforts to win an advantage.
Montero’s shove and Johnson’s celebration though are in a whole different realm. There was no advantage to the team. Both were moments of self indulgence that placed themselves before their team mates, their club and their fans.
Johnson’s punch/slap, and again it has to be restated he has not been found guilty of that, would enter a different realm.
Having watched the video, not everything is as crystal clear as Zayner’s quote makes out.
Johnson definitely went to celebrate in front of the San Jose bench rather than with his own side. In isolation, that is just unwise and a little classless. Given his previous fine, it is utterly idiotic.
It is also clear that Jed Zayner shoved him first a fact missing from his recollection of events for which he has to account, while displaying his injured eye to the press.
What is less clear is whether Johnson punched him, slapped him or was merely trying to keep Zayner away. Slap looks the likeliest option but the video is not clear enough. Given that Alan Gordon was sent off for retaliating to Marc Burch’s initial shove, the retaliator being held responsible would at least be consistent with the way justice was meted out in that match.
Zayner’s actions in shoving Johnson away are understandable. He could argue that he was trying to avoid Johnson deepening the confrontation by getting any nearer the Quakes bench and even more dangerously the fans. With Johnson’s reputation, it was a valid fear. Zayner can build a case for his actions but omitting an integral part of the story when telling it has not helped him.
That omission should not be used in Seattle to deflect, deny or dodge any part of the Johnson issue, and not just the Johnson issue from last night.
He arrived with a reputation of being a less than harmonious influence in a locker room. The side has looked remarkably uncohesive for much of the season.
Fans are asking if Johnson is at the root of something deeper?
In Portland on Sunday, he scored a fantastic goal.
A look at the replay of the goal suggests something may be amiss.
Johnson runs away from his team mates immediately to begin the celebration.
Normally does a goalscorer not turn towards them to await their arrival at his chosen scene of celebration?
Normally does a scorer not turn to them to assess the timing of their jumping on him to brace his body?
Johnson did not seem to be expecting any company and indeed he was not to be surprised. Andy Rose is the sole Sounder who appears to be moving to run with him.
He later gets a pat on the back from Marc Burch. This is for a goal in the highest profile most emotional match of the season.
The goal came too early for the priority to be returning to the centre circle for the restart.
Most notably there seemed to be no support from his colleagues in the club’s offense, from Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero, the closest players to him.
Would it be fair to wonder if there is a divide between him and the Hispanic players given that they comprise the better part of his forward colleagues?
It’s all speculation of course and the signs of team disharmony could have nothing to do with Eddie Johnson. There is also no conclusive proof of that clenched fist in San Francisco.
But even the most sympathetic fan of the new player, which may well be Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer, cannot expect fans not to start joining some dots and seeing a bigger picture.
Because it’s thank to Johnson that the picture in their minds is not of a packed CenturyLink Field under the lights watching Sounders play ChivasUSA for the right to see another Open Cup Final in Seattle. It’s of a grainy video from a civic stadium in California.
Sigi Schmid will have a teleconference at 4pm today with the Seattle media.